Saturday, August 18, 2018

Russian Cosmonauts go for a walk

Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev releases a tiny nano-satellite into space. NASA TV.

On Wednesday August 15, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Oleg Artemeyev opened the hatch on the Pirs module just after midnight and stayed out for over seven hours. They completed the tasks of installing the German-made Icarus experiment outside the Pirs module, and also hand-launched four nano-satellites that had been built by Russian science students. 

The Icarus experiment will track the migrations and movements of animals that have been tagged with tiny transmitters. Scientists will study how animal populations have modified their migrations and movements while encountering changes in their environments.

 Artemyev, left, and Prokopyev in a practice for the upcoming spacewalk. Credit: Roscosmos.

This was Artemyev's third spacewalk, and the first EVA for Prokopyev. The next ISS spacewalk will be in September.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Another Dragon, Another EVA for ISS

NASA Astronaut Ricky Arnold moves out of the airlock for his third EVA this year. NASA credit.
June was pretty busy for the crew of Expedition 56. With all of the maintenance and experiments performed by the six-person crew, you'd think they were busy enough! But no, they also had to prepare for a spacewalk and to make preparations for a new Dragon Cargo ship. On June 14, astronauts Drew Feustel (Expedition 56 commander) and Ricky Arnold (flight engineer) performed a6 hour 49 minute EVA to install improved HD camera equipment on the outside of the station.
Expedition 56 commander Drew Feustel led the 6th EVA of the Year.
The two spacewalkers  installed the HD cameras to help improve the view of the upcoming Dragon crewed ship docking and future Boeing Starliner crew vehicle dockings. In addition to the cameras, they moved some grab handles and performed some maintenance outside the Japanese KIBO module.

Dragon cargo spacecraft grappled by the CanadArm2 robotic arm. 
Following liftoff on Friday, and a three-day orbital chase, another Dragon cargo ship arrived at the ISS and was captured by robotic arm on Monday July 2. Astronauts Ricky Arnold, backed up by Drew Feustel, maneuvered the craft to dock at the US-built Harmony module. It carried science equipment, supplies, and biological experiments. Dragon is scheduled to stay at the station for about a month.
Parking is getting pretty limited up there.
With the arrival of Dragon, the ISS ports look pretty full. There are two Soyuz crew vehicles, a Cygnus cargo ship, a Dragon cargo ship, a Russian Progress cargo ship, and the inflatable Bigelow BEAM module attached to docking ports. Soon, however, we can expect further US-built crew ships (Dragon2 and Boeing Starliner) to be arriving for testing. This will make parking very interesting at the ISS!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

ISS: From 55 to 56

Touchdown! Soyuz capsule MS-07 lands after firing retro-rockets in Kazakhstan.

Expedition 55 prepares to enter Soyuz MS-07 before undocking. (L-R) Anton Shkaplerov, Norishige Kanai, and Scott Tingle.

Expedition 55 came to an end officially when the crew of Soyuz MS-07 undocked their ship from the ISS on June 3. Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos) commanded the Soyuz and astronauts Norishige Kani (JAX) and Scott Tingle (NASA) occupied the left and right seats.  STaying on board, and commencing Expedition 56, were Commander Drew Feustel (NASA), Ricky Arnold (NASA) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos) acting as Flight Engineers.

The Soyuz safely landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan later that day. Three more crewmembers were scheduled to arrive shortly.

The crew of Expedition 56/57 pose before their Soyuz rocket, with its special markings commemorating the 2018 FIFA World Cup. (L-R) Serena Auñon-Chancellor, Sergey Prokopyev, and Alexander Gerst.

 Russian Soyuz rocket blasts off from Baikonur with Expedition 56/57.

On Wednesday, June 6, the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft was sent on a 2-day orbital rendezvous with the ISS. The ship docked on June 8 to the Russian-made Rassvet module. Astronaut Gerst of the ESA is on his 2nd mission to the station, and will assume command for expedition 57.

Recently, the Dragon cargo ship left the station and returned to Earth. On May 24, the Cygnus cargo spacecraft docked to the station with thousands of pound worth of supplies and science experiment support. 

View from the Cuppola on the ISS of the Cygnus cargo spaceship grappled by the CanadArm.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

ISS: Expedition 55 Having a good start to Spring!

Current Spacecraft docking at the ISS. Credit: NASA.

Spring has gotten off to a good start up in Low Earth Orbit. When the Expedition 54 crew left the station on March XX, it left only three crew aboard: Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos) Norishige Kanai (Japan) and Scott Tingle (NASA). They did not have long to wait. On March 23, the reinforcements arrived on Soyuz spacecraft MS-08, docking at the Russian-built Poisk module. Joining the crew was Soyuz commander Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos), Dr. Andrew Feustet (NASA), and Rick Arnold (NASA). Comprising the Expedition 55/56 crew, they are all veterans of spaceflight with Artemyev having already visited the ISS for six months in 2014. Dr. Feustel flew aboard shuttle Atlantis in 20009 with the Hubble Servicing Mission, shuttle Endeavor's final mission in 2011 (STS-134), and already has six EVAs to his credit. He will The Expedition 56 commander at the end of Expedition 55. Astronaut Arnold flew aboard shuttle Discovery in 2009, delivering the last set of solar panels to the ISS.
MS-08 approaches the station.
Nice view of MS-08 passing below the already-docked Progress cargo spacecraft.
 The last week of March was a busy one for the full crew. On March 28, ISS crewmembers closed the hatch on Progress 68P, having removed all its cargo and replaced the cargo with trash and waste items. The Progress ship undocked from the Russian-built Pirs module and was maneuvered into a lower orbit. Russian ground controllers are using the craft for some engineering tests, until they are ready to de-orbit the craft on April 25 and let it burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

Progress 68 just getting ready to undock as the ISS flies over the Atlantic Ocean.
The next day, March 29, two of NASA's astronauts went outside for a spacewalk, the fourth of the year. Astronauts Feustel and Arnold performed an EVA for a little over six hours, replacing worrisome cables on a cooling system, installing a TV camera, and placing a new communications antenna on the US Tranquility module. 
Drew Feustel on his March 29 EVA. This makes 7 EVAs in his career.
With the spacewalk completed, astronauts began preparing for their next visitor. On April 2, SpaceX launched another resupply mission to the ISS using the Falcon 9 re-usable rocket and the Dragon cargo spacecraft. Mission CRS-14 brings the station a plethora of science equipment as well as consumables and regular maintenance items. Dragon reached the station and docked on April 4 to the US Harmony module. It will remain on the station until May.
Dragon CRS-14 approaches the station over the magnificent colors of our planet.
 Next big event for the station crew will be the end of Expedition 55 in April.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Soyuz MS-06 Returns to Earth with Expedition 53/54

Soyuz Descent module under its parachute heads towards a landing in Kazakhstan.

On Monday, February 26 the Expedition 54 came to an end during a Change of command ceremony. Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will command the station starting Expedition 55. They will be joined on March 21 by astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel (NASA) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos).
Expedition 54/55 enjoying space before the Change of Command Ceremony.

The Soyuz capsule landed on the cold wintery steppes of Kazakhstan early on Tuesday. They were quickly joined by recovery crews flying in by helicopter and were carefully retrieved from the cramped descent module. For Soyuz commander Alexander Misurkin, he now has his second spaceflight complete. He took part in a record-breaking Russian EVA on February 2, and now has a total of 4 spacewalks in his resumé. Astronaut Joe Acaba has now completed three spaceflights, with three EVAs total. Astronaut Mark Vende Hei has completed his first space mission, and now has a fantastic four EVAs to his credit.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

SpaceX Heavy Falcon Launches Tesla Roadster out to the Asteroids

The SpaceX Heavy Falcon sits on the pad the night before First Flight. All images credit: SpaceX.

In a bold, and risky test flight, SpaceX has created the world's currently-heaviest payload lifting rocket. The Heavy Falcon is basically a center prime stage with two attached Falcon-9 recoverable boosters to the sides. A second stage and payload sit atop the prime stage, which is also designed to land and be re-used. Until Wednesday, the rocket with the most lift was the Delta 4 rocket. The Falcon Heavy can lift a payload of 140,000 pounds to low Earth obit, 58,000 ponds to Earth Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, and if needed, can launch over 37,000 pounds to Mars.  Only the giant Saturn V and perhaps the Russian Energia, both retired, could lift more.

Blast off on Wednesday afternoon after high winds abated.

The Falcon Heavy lifted off from the venerable Pad LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center. This site was heavily used for most of the Apollo moon launches, followed by Skylab and then Space Shuttle launches. A few years ago, the Space Center signed a 20-year lease with SpaceX. The older tower support structures were removed, and SpaceX built a new tower system with rocket assembly and testing features around the pad. 

The Falcon-9 boosters landed perfectly back at the cape, at almost the same time.

Prior to the launch, Space X executives were keen to remind everyone that this as an extremely dangerous test, and it could fail. But alomst everything went right. As planned, the boosters separated and were remotely-guided down to land vertically at launch pads LZ-1 and LZ-2. These pads were built by SpaceX at the US Air Force's Cape Canaveral range just a little south of the Kennedy Space center. The site was originally Launch Complex 13, which supported testing and launches of the Atlas and Atlas-Agena rockets. Science missions Lunar Orbiter-1 and Mariner 3 were launched from there, as well as several spy satellites. Unfortunately, the prime center stage did not land successfully and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

The StarMan, in its SpaceX designed spacesuit, leaves Earth Orbit on its way to the Asteroid belt.

To confirm the test launch heavy lift capability, SpaceX needed a heavy object to launch into space. In a creative publicity move, SpaceX President Elon Musk donated a car from his personal collection - a Tesla Roadster with the convertible top down. Inside was "Starman" a dummy placed in a SpaceX spacesuit. Cameras on board the car recorded and transmitted images in different directions as the car left the orbit and continued its way out to space- estimated to be an orbit near the asteroid belt. In a tribute to some science fiction icons, a Screen in the car displays "Don't Panic" and the Starman has his space-traveling towel. A miniature Tesla car hangs from the front mirror. And the radio is broadcasting David Bowie's hit "Space Oddity" as long as power holds out.

Click here to watch live views from the Roadster. 
Click here to watch a tribute to the launch of the Falcon Heavy to the music of "Space Oddity".

Dragon Undocks and EVAs mark the beginning of 2018 on ISS.

Dragon cargo spacecraft safely back on Earth on the recovery ship.

Full of returning experiments, science samples, and items for further testing, the Dragon cargo spaceship undocked from the ISS on January 13. Surviving the fiery re-entry, the craft parachuted down to the Pacific Ocean and was recovered by SpaceX teams which will prepare the ship for returning to SpaceX and to NASA.
 Astronaut Scott Tingle prepares for the year's first EVA.
January and February start off with EVAs on the International Space Station. On January 23, astronauts Mark Vande-Hei and Scott Tingle conducted EVA-47 to replace parts on the Robotic Arm. Once outside the airlock, the spacewalkers removed the spare part from a locker on the outside of the station and replaced the faulty part on the arm. Unfortunately there is a software issue with the activation of the part, which will result in a further spacewalk later in February.
Russian Cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin (R) and Anton Shkaplerov (L) prepare to exit the airlock for their EVA.

February 2nd saw the second EVA when cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Alexander Misurka exited the PIRS module to perform maintenance work. This was Misurkin's fourth spacewalk. They successfully moved to the Zvesda module and replaced a faulty electronics box for a high-gain radio communications system. The bad parts were jettisoned towards a burn-up in the atmosphere. This station marked the 207th EVA for maintenance on the spacestation, including both American and Russian spacewalks. Typical for space agencies, this is also known as the Russian EVA-44 spacewalk. I'm not sure that I can comprehend how they keep track of these things when they have duplicate designations... 

Cosmonauts moving about the Zvesda module.

The EVA concluded after 8 hours and 13 minutes, which makes it the longest Russian spacewalk. Coming up on the ISS: A Russian Progress Cargo ship will take off on Sunday Feb. 11, and another US EVA in this coming week.